Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Linguistics

Editor-in-Chief: Ehrhart, Sabine

Covered by:
Elsevier - SCOPUS
Clarivate Analytics - Emerging Sources Citation Index

CiteScore 2018: 0.70

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.288
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.544

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

Accounting for the stochastic nature of sound symbolism using Maximum Entropy model

Shigeto Kawahara / Hironori Katsuda / Gakuji Kumagai
Published Online: 2019-05-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2019-0007


Sound symbolism refers to stochastic and systematic associations between sounds and meanings. Sound symbolism has not received much serious attention in the generative phonology literature, perhaps because most if not all sound symbolic patterns are probabilistic. Building on the recent proposal to analyze sound symbolic patterns within a formal phonological framework (Alderete and Kochetov 2017), this paper shows that MaxEnt grammars allow us to model stochastic sound symbolic patterns in a very natural way. The analyses presented in the paper show that sound symbolic relationships can be modeled in the same way that we model phonological patterns. We suggest that there is nothing fundamental that prohibits formal phonologists from analyzing sound symbolic patterns, and that studying sound symbolism using a formal framework may open up a new, interesting research domain. The current study also reports two hitherto unnoticed cases of sound symbolism, thereby expanding the empirical scope of sound symbolic patterns in natural languages.

Keywords: sound symbolism; Japanese; MaxEnt grammar


  • Akita, K. (2015), “Sound symbolism,” in Handbook of Pragmatics, Installment 2015, eds. J.-O. Östman, and J. Verschueren, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

  • Alderete, J., and Kochetov, A. (2017), “Integrating sound symbolism with core grammar: The case of expressive palatalization,” Language, 93, 731–766.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Berger, A. L., Della Pietra, S. A., and Della Pietra, V. J. (1996), “A maximum entropy approach to natural language processing,” Computational Linguistics, 22, 39–71.Google Scholar

  • Berlin, B. (2006), “The first congress of ethonozoological nomenclature,” Journal of Royal Anthropological Institution, 12, 23–44.Google Scholar

  • Blasi, D., Wichman, S., Hammarström, H., Stadler, P. F., and Christianson, M. H. (2016), “Sound-meaning association biases evidenced across thousands of languages,” Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, 113(39), 10818–10823.Google Scholar

  • Chomsky, N., and Halle, M. (1968), The Sound Pattern of English, New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar

  • Coulter, K., and Coulter, R. A. (2010), “Small sounds, big deals: Phonetic symbolism effects in pricing,” Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 315–328.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Daland, R. (2015), “Long words in maximum entropy phonotactic gammars,” Phonology, 32(3), 353–383.Google Scholar

  • Diffloth, G. (1994), “i: big, a: small,” in Sound Symbolism, eds. L. Hinton, J. Nichols, and J. J. Ohala, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 107–114.Google Scholar

  • Dingemanse, M. (2018), “Redrawing the margins of language: Lessons from research on ideophones,” Glossa.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Dingemanse, M., Blasi, D. E., Lupyan, G., Christiansen, M. H., and Monaghan, P. (2015), “Arbitrariness, iconicity and systematicity in language,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(10), 603–615.Google Scholar

  • D’Onofrio, A. (2014), “Phonetic detail and dimensionality in sound-shape correspondences: Refining the bouba-kiki paradigm,” Language and Speech, 57(3), 367–393.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ernestus, M., and Baayen, H. (2003), “Predicting the unpredictable: Interpreting neutralized segments in Dutch,” Language, 79(1), 5–38.Google Scholar

  • Fort, M., Martin, A., and Peperkamp, S. (2015), “Consonants are more important than vowels in the bouba-kiki effect,” Language and Speech, 58, 247–266.Google Scholar

  • Goldwater, S., and Johnson, M. (2003), “Learning OT constraint rankings using a maximum entropy model,” Proceedings of the Workshop on Variation within Optimality Theory, pp. 111–120.Google Scholar

  • Hall, K. C. (2009), A Probabilistic Model of Phonological Relationships from Contrast to Allophony, Doctoral dissertation, Ohio State University.Google Scholar

  • Hamano, S. (1986), The Sound-Symbolic System of Japanese, Doctoral dissertation, University of Florida.Google Scholar

  • Hayes, B. (2016), “Some remarks on linguistics, textsetting, and life,” Commencement ceremony lecture, Boston University, May 14.Google Scholar

  • Hayes, B. (2017), “Varieties of Noisy Harmonic Grammar,” Proocedings of AMP.Google Scholar

  • Hayes, B., and Londe, Z. (2006), “Stochastic phonological knowledge: The case of Hungarian vowel harmony,” Phonology, 23, 59–104.Google Scholar

  • Hayes, B., and Wilson, C. (2008), “A Maximum Entropy model of phonotactics and phonotactic learning,” Linguistic Inquiry, 39, 379–440.Google Scholar

  • Hayes, B., Wilson, C., and Shisko, A. (2012), “Maxent grammars for the metrics of Shakespeare and Milton,” Language, 88(4), 691-731.Google Scholar

  • Hayes, B., Zuraw, K., Siptár, P., and Londe, Z. (2009), “Natural and unnatural constraints in Hungarian vowel harmony,” Language, 85(4), 822–863.Google Scholar

  • Hinton, L., Nichols, J., and Ohala, J. (2006), Sound Symbolism, 2nd Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Hockett, C. (1959), “Animal “languages” and human language,” Human Biology, 31, 32–39.Google Scholar

  • Jakobson, R. (1978), Six Lectures on Sound and Meaning, Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar

  • Jespersen, O. (1922), “Symbolic value of the vowel i,” in Linguistica: Selected Papers in English, French and German, Vol. 1, Copenhagen: Levin and Munksgaard, pp. 283–30.Google Scholar

  • Kawahara, S. (2017), Introducing phonetics through sound symbolism, Tokyo: Hitsuzi Syobo.Google Scholar

  • Kawahara, S. (2018), “Phonology and the orthography: The orthographic characterization of rendaku and Lyman’s Law,” Glossa, 3.Google Scholar

  • Kawahara, S., Noto, A., and Kumagai, G. (2018), “Sound symbolic patterns in Pokémon names,” Phonetica, 75(3), 219–244.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Kawahara, S., and Shinohara, K. (2012), “A tripartite trans-modal relationship between sounds, shapes and emotions: A case of abrupt modulation,” Proceedings of CogSci, 2012, 569–574.Google Scholar

  • Kochetov, A., and Alderete, J. (2011), “Scales and patterns of expressive palatalization: Experimental evidence from Japanese,” Canadian Journal of LInguistics, 56(3), 345–376.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Köhler, W. (1947), Gestalt Psychology: An Introduction to New Concepts in Modern Psychology, New York: Liveright.Google Scholar

  • Kubozono, H. (1999), Nihongo-no Onsei: Gendai Gengogaku Nyuumon 2 [Japanese Phonetics: An Introduction to Modern Linguisitcs 2], Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.Google Scholar

  • Kumagai, G. (2019), “A sound-symbolic alternation to express cuteness and the orthographic Lyman’s Law in Japanese,” Journal of Japanese Linguistics, 39-74Google Scholar

  • Kumagai, G., and Kawahara, S. (2018), “Stochastic phonological knowledge and word formation in Japanese,” Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan, 153, 57–83.Google Scholar

  • Kumagai, G., and Kawahara, S. (2019), “Pokémon-no naduke-ni okeru boin-to yuuseisogaion-no kouka,” Gengo Kenkyu [Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan], 155.Google Scholar

  • Legendre, G., Miyata, Y., and Smolensky, P. (1990a), “Harmonic Grammar – A formal multi-level connectionist theory of linguistic well-formedness: An Application,” in Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 884–891.Google Scholar

  • Legendre, G., Miyata, Y., and Smolensky, P. (1990b), “Harmonic Grammar – A formal multi-level connectionist theory of linguistic well-formedness: Theoretical foundations,” in Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 388–395.Google Scholar

  • Locke, J. (1689), An Essay concerning Human Understanding, London: MDCC.Google Scholar

  • Lockwood, G., and Dingemanse, M. (2015), “Iconicity in the lab: A review of behavioral, developmental, and neuroimaging research into sound-symbolism,” Frontiers in Psychology, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01246.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Maurer, D., Pathman, T., and Mondloch, C. J. (2006), “The shape of boubas: Sound-shape correspondences in toddlers and adults,” Developmental Science, 9, 316–322.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • McCarthy, J. J. (2008), Doing Optimality Theory, Oxford: Blackwell-Wiley.Google Scholar

  • McCarthy, J. J. (2010), “An introduction to Harmonic Serialism,” Language and Linguistic Compass, 4(10), 1001–1018.Google Scholar

  • McCarthy, J. J., and Prince, A. (1995), “Faithfulness and reduplicative identity,” in University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers in Linguistics 18, eds. J. Beckman, L. Walsh Dickey, and S. Urbanczyk, Amherst: GLSA, pp. 249–384.Google Scholar

  • Moore-Cantwell, C., and Pater, J. (2016), “Gradient exceptionality in Maximum Entropy grammar with lexically specific constraints,” Catalan Journal of Linguistics, 15, 53–66.Google Scholar

  • Newman, S. (1933), “Further experiments on phonetic symbolism,” American Journal of Psychology, 45, 53–75.Google Scholar

  • Nuckolls, J. B. (1999), “The case for sound symbolism,” Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 225–252.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ohala, J. J. (1994), “The frequency code underlies the sound symbolic use of voice pitch,” in Sound Symbolism, eds. L. Hinton, J. Nichols, and J. J. Ohala, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 325–347.Google Scholar

  • Pater, J. (2009), “Weighted constraints in generative linguistics,” Cognitive Science, 33, 999–1035.Google Scholar

  • Pater, J. (2016), “Universal grammar with weighted constraints,” in Harmonic Grammar and Harmonic Serialism, eds. J. J. McCarthy, and J. Pater, London: Equinox, pp. 1–46.Google Scholar

  • Pierrehumbert, J. B. (2001), “Stochastic phonology,” GLOT, 5, 1–13.Google Scholar

  • Prince, A., and Smolensky, P. (1993/2004), Optimality Theory: Constraint Interaction in Generative Grammar, Malden and Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar

  • Ramachandran, V. S., and Hubbard, E. M. (2001), “Synesthesia–A window into perception, thought, and language,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8(12), 3–34.Google Scholar

  • Sapir, E. (1929), “A study in phonetic symbolism,” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 12, 225–239.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Saussure, F. (1916), Cours de linguistique générale, Paris: Payot.Google Scholar

  • Shattuck-Hufnagel, S. (1986), “The representation of phonological information during speech production planning: Evidence from vowel errors in spontaneous speech,” Phonology Yearbook, 3, 117–149.Google Scholar

  • Shaw, J., and Kawahara, S. (2018), “Predictability and phonology: Past, present & future,” Linguistics Vanguard, 4(S2).Google Scholar

  • Shih, S. S., Ackerman, J., Hermalin, N., Inkelas, S., and Kavitskaya, D. (2018), “Pokémonikers: A study of sound symbolism and Pokémon names,” Proceedings of LSA, 2018.Google Scholar

  • Shinohara, K., and Kawahara, S. (2013), “The sound symbolic nature of Japanese maid names,” Proceedings of the 13th Annual Meeting of the Japanese Cognitive Linguistics Association, 13, 183–193.Google Scholar

  • Shinohara, K., and Kawahara, S. (2016), “A cross-linguistic study of sound symbolism: The images of size,” in Proceedings of the Thirty Sixth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society., Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society, pp. 396–410.Google Scholar

  • Sidhu, D., and Pexman, P. M. (2017), “Five mechanisms of sound symbolic association,” Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, pp. 1–25.Google Scholar

  • Styles, S. J., and Gawne, L. (2017), “When does maluma/takete fail? Two key failures and a meta-analysis suggest that phonology and phonotactics matter,” i-Perception, pp. 1–17.Google Scholar

  • Suzuki, T. (1962), “Oninkookan to igibunka no kankei ni tsuite–iwayuru seidakuon tairitsu-o chuushin toshite,” Gengo Kenkyu [Journal of the Linguistic Society of Japan], 42, 23–30.Google Scholar

  • Svantesson, J.-O. (2017), “Sound symbolism: The role of word sound in meaning,” WIRE Cog Sci, e01441.Google Scholar

  • Tanaka, Y. (2017), The Sound pattern of Japanese surnames, Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar

  • Uemura, Y. (1965), “Onsei-no hyoushousei-ni tsuite [On the symbolic aspects of sounds],” in Gengo Seikatsu, Tokyo: Honami Shuppan, pp. 66–70.Google Scholar

  • Ultan, R. (1978), “Size-sound symbolism,” in Universals of Human Language II: Phonology, ed. J. Greenberg, Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 525–568.Google Scholar

  • Wilson, C. (2006), “Learning phonology with substantive bias: An experimental and computational study of velar palatalization,” Cognitive Science, 30(5), 945–982.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Wilson, C. (2014), “Maximum entropy models,” Tutorial presentation, MIT.Google Scholar

  • Wright, S., and Hay, J. (2002), “Fred and Trema: A phonological conspiracy,” in Gendered Practices in Language, eds. S. Benor, M. Rose, D. Sharma, J. Sweetland, and Q. Zhang, Stanford: CSLI Publications, pp. 175–191.Google Scholar

  • Wright, S., Hay, J., and Tessa, B. (2005), “Ladies first? Phonology, frequency, and the naming conspiracy,” Linguistics, 43(3), 531–561.Google Scholar

  • Zuraw, K. (2000), Patterned Exceptions in Phonology, Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar

  • Zuraw, K. (2013), “*Map constraints,” ms. UCLA.Google Scholar

  • Zuraw, K., and Hayes, B. (2017), “Intersecting constraint familities: An argument for Harmonic Grammar,” Language, 93, 497–548.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

About the article

Received: 2018-09-24

Accepted: 2019-01-21

Published Online: 2019-05-22

Published in Print: 2019-01-01

Citation Information: Open Linguistics, Volume 5, Issue 1, Pages 109–120, ISSN (Online) 2300-9969, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opli-2019-0007.

Export Citation

© 2019 Shigeto Kawahara et al., published by Sciendo. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License. BY 4.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in